D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown has more in common with his former campaign treasurer, Hakim Sutton, than the elections they have weathered together: Both have a history of money problems.
While Mr. Brown was slapped with a $20,000 tax lien this past summer – to go with $50,000 in back taxes for 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008, and a 1997 federal misdemeanor conviction for a campaign finance violation – Mr. Sutton has been known as a reliable campaign finance man. That is, until Mr. Brown, at-large independent, publicly accused his longtime treasurer of stealing more than $100,000 from his 2012 campaign.
And while Mr. Sutton's financial mishaps pale in comparison with his former client's, they raise questions about why he was entrusted with the candidate's money in the first place.
Mr. Sutton, who has publicly accused his former client as complicit in the unreported withdrawal of large sums of campaign cash, has denied any wrongdoing in the controversy that has him and Mr. Brown at each other's throats. He did not return calls for this story. A spokesman for Mr. Brown declined comment.
But a review of D.C. Superior Court records shows at least seven actions filed against Mr. Sutton since 2007, along with a few repeat filings to recover monies he allegedly owed. The records show that in June 2010, a West Virginia car dealer charged him with "unjustly detaining" a 2006 Mercedes-Benz C280 after allegedly compiling unpaid car payments of more than $24,000. Mr. Sutton, identified as a co-borrower along with a Floretta Sutton-Logan, denied the allegations, the records show, including that he failed to return the vehicle. The court later ordered a U.S. marshal to take possession of the vehicle based on a $36,950 surety bond.
The bulk of Mr. Sutton's financial troubles involve housing matters, and while the amounts are smaller than Mr. Brown's personal financial troubles, they raise similar red flags.
In 2009, a Superior Court judge rendered a $13,000 judgment against Mr. Sutton for unpaid rent, records show, and a company called 936 N Street L.L.C. sued him in Landlord/Tenant Court for $9,300 in unpaid rent. The latter resulted in a judgment and eviction notice pending Mr. Sutton's compliance with a payment plan, although the records show that after he failed to comply and the company again pressed for eviction, Mr. Sutton moved out, leaving "considerable amounts owed," according to a company representative.
In 2010, the records show, Brian Wacek filed a small-claims action against Mr. Sutton for withholding a $1,325 security deposit after giving a one-day lease termination notice. Mr. Wacek stated in court papers that he filed action after several attempts to "get this issue resolved." The court dismissed Mr. Wacek's claim in May 2010 for failure to serve legal papers on Mr. Sutton.
In 2008, James Steiner also sued Mr. Sutton in small-claims court under the Service Members Civil Relief Act for failure to return a $1,200 security deposit.
"I was promised on several occasions that these funds would be returned to me, in writing, after I moved out," Mr. Steiner wrote in court papers. "The defendant clearly acted in bad faith and has no intention of returning my deposit." The court entered judgment for Mr. Steiner for $1,200.
A year later, Mr. Sutton allegedly held a deposit owed to a renter, Christopher Fava, who sued in small-claims court for $1,150 after "multiple attempts" to recover the money. After a dismissal for failure to serve Mr. Sutton with papers, the court later entered a judgment in favor of Mr. Fava for $1,150, records show. Mr. Fava said in court papers that Mr. Sutton promised to pay him but never did.
In 2007, Alex Lopoukhine sued Mr. Sutton in small-claims court for an unreturned security deposit of $800, after Mr. Sutton allegedly "acknowledged responsibility to pay but has avoided doing so," court records show. The dispute settled for $710 in December 2007. However, records show Mr. Sutton canceled his check and forced Mr. Lopoukhine to re-file the complaint, which again was dismissed in 2008 for failure to serve papers on Mr. Sutton.
Mary Boyle, communications director with Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that advocates for government accountability, said such personal financial dysfunction in a campaign treasurer reflects on the candidate as much as the treasurer.
"This money generally doesn't come easy. You'd think Michael Brown would be more careful about who to entrust with those resources," she said. "It's pretty clean cut. It certainly doesn't make him look like a good steward of his own resources. Any voter would question the decision [to hire Sutton] and it raises other questions about decisions made by this candidate. These situations can speak volumes about the candidate's character and fitness for elected office."
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